During a disruptive event like the coronavirus it can be difficult to balance immediate, needs-based marketing to your customers versus the longer-term proposition of growing your brand. When faced with a crisis, it is important to balance timely communications and relevant marketing with your regularly planned brand programs.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions from business owners wanting to know what appropriate marketing looks like during this uncertain time. The answer is – it depends on your business. Who you are, what you offer, and who you serve. The key is, you need a holistic view of you business and brand before you can identify the best path forward. I’ve outlined three things you should start, stop, and continue doing to help you navigate this evolving situation with more confidence.
Tracking the issue via a reliable news source – don’t just focus on your local area, pay attention to global trends and impact
Check-in frequently with employees, clients, vendors you rely on, or anyone else who is important to the success of your business.
Thinking about your behavior as a risk to your brand. The decisions you make in your business and in your communications are not just about the bottom line. People will remember how you behave and what you say even once this crisis has resolved. Think about your business two years from now. You have the opportunity now to build a solid foundation for the future.
Review any upcoming communications, campaigns, or events you have planned. Now might not be the best time to promote your spring sale, your fun run in six months, or a conference you were planning. Think about your audience and what they really need from you right now.
Continuing with a business as usual attitude. You don’t need to panic but you can’t pretend that nothing is happening. You need to behave as if your business has been impacted, even if it hasn’t been yet.
Expecting employees, customers, or vendors to show up for you in the same ways they always do. Remember that we’re all human, not business machines, give everyone some extra space and grace. Including yourself.
Adding value to your customers however you can. Their lives have been interrupted too. Is there anything you can do out of your usual business practice to make their lives easier right now?
Being yourself. The clients or followers you have right now are there because they’ve connected with your brand. It’s more important now than ever that you stay consistent in how you deliver your brand promise and communicate your brand value.
Innovating. If new and creative ideas are coming to you despite the chaos and uncertainty, run with them! This is a great time to test new ideas or reprioritize your goals. Was there something you hoped to accomplish a few years from now that suddenly seems more relevant? Make it happen. Just be careful to balance innovation with spending. No one knows what the economic impact of this crisis is yet, make sure that you’re future proofing your balance sheet now, even while you’re trying new things.
Looking for more tips? I created a free checklist with 5 simple strategies you can start today to help you build a meaningful brand now and into the future. Download your copy here.
It doesn’t matter if you are a public figure, executive, or a professional, your personal brand matters right now more than ever.
I think we can all agree that the events of the past few weeks have put many of us on a roller coaster of emotions. We are all feeling the effects of COVID-19 and while much is still unknown about the virus, most people seem to agree that life will not be the same any time soon.
With our everyday routines turned upside down the idea of your personal brand, namely your reputation, might not be at the forefront of your thoughts. But it should be. Whether you are working from home, working non-stop for the benefit of others, or unfortunately out of work due to the pandemic, now is the time to be thinking about your own brand – specifically how you communicate, present yourself, engage with others, and behave online.
When the dust settles from this current storm your customers, clients, and coworkers will remember how you are behaving right now. If you represent a brand publicly or you are a professional employed by someone else, you cannot afford to be complacent or worse, irrational, during these difficult times.
Small business owners, service providers, and hourly workers are some of the first to suffer financially from this global health – and economic – crisis; but they will not be the last. In my own career I’ve been laid-off twice. The first time during the global financial crisis in 2009. Nothing prepares you for the demoralizing news that you are suddenly out of a paycheck you are counting on to survive. The psychological effects of having a large part of your identity suddenly taken from you can be crippling. This is already happening around the world and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future. Today’s top trend on Twitter is #saveworkers and it’s no surprise.
Some of my favorite brands and public figures are making critical mistakes in their communication strategies and brand management right now – and I like them less for it. To everyone representing a brand right now, big or small, be mindful of your actions and thoughtful in your words. Yes, these events will eventually blow over, but your customers and coworkers will not forget the choices you’re making right now.
The best way for anyone to build their brand right now is to protect it. How? Read on below for a few effective strategies. If you’re a business owner needing to pivot your services or a working professional suddenly in need of a new job, these steps below will help.
Check your behavior. Most of us are feeling, and possibly behaving, out of the ordinary right now. But that’s not an excuse to behave badly. People act differently when they’re stressed or scared, and while I do believe we should be accepting of each other now more than ever, that’s not a pass to behave like an 8-year-old when you’re a grown adult. Now is the time to focus on the basics when it comes to behavior management. Think before you speak, bite your tongue, maybe even ask someone you trust if you’re behaving rationally before you respond to something.
This feels like a tip I shouldn’t have to write but I have already seen too many examples in my personal life and on-line that prove we all need this reminder right now. Take a breath, take a pause, and picture yourself in the future. If you are a public figure, those insensitive tweets you’re posting will hurt your business in the long-term. This is a chance to show people who you are – what do you want to be known for?
Communication is everything. Communications is a broad category when we’re talking about marketing and branding and I typically focus on something specific when I’m giving advice, but in this case, I really mean communication in the broadest sense.
Think about your communication skills – how are you delivering information to others? If you’re a business owner, how are you connecting with your customers? This is an opportunity to go above and beyond business as usual communications to provide additional value. Or just to let people know you care. If you’re still thinking of your customers as a number instead of humans who are anxious, scared, tired just like you, then you’re making a big mistake.
Your communication skills are important in your personal relationships right now, too. You don’t have to have it all together right now. In fact, I really appreciate the people who are being honest in my business and personal relationships. It’s ok to feel uncertain, frustrated, or confused. Did you take a day off in the middle of the week to decompress? Did you find yourself crying at your computer in the middle of the day because it all felt like too much? I appreciate the vulnerability and honesty, and by being honest with each other we can build a stronger foundation of trust and open communication in the future. Not just in our personal relationships but in our business relationships and marketing as well.
Think about your communication channels. This advice is for business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals with some sort of a public brand. You need to address your communication channels holistically. I’ve seen a lot of business leaders putting out great content on one channel, such as Instagram or LinkedIn, and then ignoring the others. When your business as usual marketing strategy is multi-pronged, meaning you typically engage with your followers via multiple channels such as email, your website, and different social media channels; you are making a huge mistake right now by only showing up for people on one channel. If you’re only focused on one channel right now there are cracks in your brand’s foundation. Take some time to fix them now before the chasm is too great to overcome.
Do your due diligence when sharing information. Make sure you take a minute to think about what you’re sharing, especially if it’s a news item or related “tip.” Make sure you are doing your due diligence by reviewing the source of the information your consuming and sharing with others. Is it from an original, credible source?
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the ultimate goal in any crisis situation is to manage the message and contain the damage. This means it is prudent to consume news with a critical eye. Remember in situations like these what we are told today could be revised tomorrow. For example, if there is a press release from your local government that says there is no lock down in your area today, do not take this to mean that there will not be a lock down. It’s imperative that you prepare your business, and personal life, for the worst-case scenario. I’m not writing this to stoke panic or encouraging you to go out and buy everything you need for the next year. I’m just reminding you that it is up to all of us to remain rational and well informed and make decisions that set-up our business and careers for success in the future. It’s time to move beyond the shock and denial phase of this turmoil and move on to action and preparedness for the future.
Be helpful. This feels like one I shouldn’t have to write but I’m going for it anyway. Be a good human – at home and at work. Think beyond yourself right now, whatever your situation. I’m encouraged by the number of people doing nice things for others, just because. But there is still a lot we can all do. If you’re coworking with a partner at home, why not do the dishes with those 5 minutes you have between conference calls? If you’re single and you know your friends are overwhelmed balancing work and family right now, get creative and offer some help. Can you video chat with their kids so your friend can make dinner? Can you offer to organize something a friend would normally take care of? Take a few minutes to send an encouraging text to a friend who you know is working all hours just trying to keep up.
Apply these same ideas to your business life. Are there colleagues you can help because they have less flexibility than you? Do you manage someone who seems to be struggling right now? How can you help them? If you’re an entrepreneur, what can you do to support others? A little bit goes a long way right now.
“Be helpful” might sound basic, but it’s good for our relationships. At the end of the day, that’s what brand building is all about. Now is an opportunity to show people who you really are, and who you are working on becoming. You can embrace the opportunity and put your best self out there, or you can let people decide for themselves. The choice is yours.
In honor of Friday and the end of the traditional work week, I’m taking a break from my focus on crisis planning and turning to a related but lighter topic, our human need for “normalcy.”
I’m in no way an expert on human behavior but I have some helpful tips for you today based on my own experiences. I’ve seen a lot of change in circumstances in my career with many ups and downs. If my nearly two decades of professional experience had a tagline it would be: “the only thing that is certain, is that there is no certainty.”
All in I have spent about 5 years working virtually, first as a team member in a small business, then as a team member in a larger company, and now for myself. My current situation, running my business online while also raising my toddler, has been the ultimate challenge. But it has also been the most rewarding. I’ve been reading a lot of posts from people struggling to adapt to working virtually and (for some) being home with their children. I know it can feel like a big adjustment, but there are plenty of great things about it too. Over the years I’ve come up with my own list of strategies that help me stay (at least somewhat) calm, optimistic, and focused during difficult times.
As you read my tips below, please know that I really am in the trenches with you. I understand that “just a minute, Mommy has to send one more email…” is often met with domestic disaster. Like when my 2-year-old responds by peeing all over our newly renovated bathroom. On purpose. Those experiences are my “normal” life, but that doesn’t mean I always embrace it with enthusiasm.
Here are a few of my best tips to help you get through the challenging days.
Tip 1: Maintain as much normalcy as possible. This is a valuable lesson I learned when I was laid off in 2009 during the global financial crisis. At that time, I was single and sitting around my house all day was a nice break from things, until it wasn’t. I fell into an unhealthy pattern of staying up really late and sleeping half the day away which did not help my mental or physical health. I kicked that habit to the curb and forced myself to maintain a reasonable bedtime and wake-up time. I also exercised daily and put more energy into creating healthy recipes. These healthy habits became my new normal and helped me feel like I had some control over my routine (and thus life) even when I had little control over my job situation.
These days I’m doing my best to create normalcy at home for my family. My son and I still send my husband off to work (upstairs) by wishing him a good day, and he still gets a hug when he “comes home from work” at the end of the day. The dog still gets walks at the same time of day, and dinnertime is the same, too. While our regular activities might all be cancelled, I’ve tried to maintain as much structure as possible so that we all feel secure in our day to day routines.
Tip 2: Find pleasure in the small things. This is my absolute favorite thing about working from home as a mom. I love that my workday is punctuated with hugs from my son, or that I’m greeted by my pup who is excited to see me. I appreciate being able to text a friend without scrutiny and when my back gets stiff, I’ll take a minute to hop on the foam roller and stretch. I would never have done those things in any of my office jobs.
Two years ago, I made the switch to virtual work from a long commute and I thought, what if I used my “commute” time in the morning as personal time? What would that look like? This little question has created life-changing results for me. Instead of sleeping until I hear my son call for me, I get up, exercise, and follow a routine that helps me feel centered despite what’s happening in the outside world. Taking time for ourselves is especially important right now and I encourage you to think about how you can start your day with even a few minutes to yourself. This small thing could lead to big changes for you, too!
Tip 3: Prioritize self-care. I know everyone’s lives are crazy right now. Some of you have been in virtual situation rooms trying to save a business, some are stuck on conference calls all day, some are out of work and desperate for a solution, and many people are figuring out what virtual home schooling looks like in their families. Most importantly of all, some of you are on the front lines, in professions that require you to risk your health so that the rest of us can stay healthy. None of this is easy which is why it is important now, more than ever, that you take a few minutes out of your day to care for yourself. Find one thing that you can do for yourself, and no one else. Maybe your one thing is that you manage to take a shower today, or maybe you meditate 20 minutes a day. Whatever self-care looks like for you, commit to something and do not compromise on that one thing.
Tip 4: Connect with others outside your home. This is a good time to embrace the benefits of technology. Video calls with friends and family aren’t the same as being together but it’s still a great way to connect with loved ones. I’m also using group messaging apps like WhatsApp more now than ever. Start a group text with friends or use voice messaging instead of text to keep conversations going with friends in different time zones. I’ve been doing this a lot over the past few months and I love hearing a good friend’s voice and feeling like we’re having a real conversation, even if the format is different. I’m also encouraged by the number of people on social media sharing messages of positivity and offering support to each other. It’s important now more than ever to protect yourself from negativity. Now is a really good time to unfollow accounts that aren’t aligned with your values or make you feel insecure in any way. If you find yourself going down unhealthy rabbit holes online, then consider a digital detox. I’ve done a few in recent years and it has done a lot for my mental health and overall happiness.
Tip 5: Do not bury your anxiety in unhealthy food and other things – at least not every day. I am not a health expert but I have discovered for myself that the foods I often turn to for comfort or as a special “treat” (aka, chocolate, processed foods, caffeine, sugar, wine) end up making me feel more anxious, even sick. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid the things you like all together, but I do encourage you to evaluate how you’re fueling yourself during stressful times. I had to break the pattern of stress-sugar-stress-sugar myself to recognize how much it was contributing to my overall feelings of anxiety and illness.
Tip 6: Embrace the opportunity for something new. You might be feeling right now like you have less time, but you have the same amount of time as before, it’s just different. This tip is for those of us at home, safe and healthy. I recognize there are plenty of people with a completely different reality right now.
For those of us lucky to be home, consider including something new to your routine. Is there a hobby you’ve been wanting to try? Why not start now? Can you adjust your schedule and get a little extra sleep? Do you have time now to learn something new? If you’re a parent, what can you do differently as a family? In our home, we don’t do screen time with our son. Recently we decided to start the ritual of having a family movie night. The little guy is entirely wrapped up in the movies we have introduced him to so far. And we’re having fun watching some of our favorites again through his eyes. (Side note: The Frozen 2 soundtrack is really catchy!)
Tip 7: You absolutely can multitask – depending on the task. If I had to say that there was only one thing that I have figured out about work from home life it is this – you can multi-task! The key is to make sure you are coupling the right tasks to do simultaneously. My best advice is to make the voice memo on your phone your best friend. I noticed that I have a lot of my best ideas while doing mindless activities like chopping vegetables, doing the dishes, folding laundry, and taking a shower. In fact, most of my blog posts get written in my head in the shower. (You can ask my husband; he’s always looking at me puzzled while I dash around in a towel looking for a pen.) I also have a notepad that I keep in our living area, where I spend the most amount of time playing with my son. This way, I can easily right down a quick idea before I forget, and then get back to implementing it later.
I understand that if you work for someone else you might not have this flexibility. But I still encourage you to take these concepts and figure out how you can make them your own. Can you fold laundry while listening to a conference call where you don’t need to contribute much? Can you keep a notepad nearby and write your to-do’s or grocery list while on Zoom with your team? I’ve found the more I can take care of the little things when they pop into my mind, the more I can focus on the critical things that require more of my time and energy.
Tip 8: Communicate often. I’m writing this tip for myself today because I always let my personal communications fall to the end of my to-do list. Now more than ever we need to support each other. Reach out to your friends and family to say hello. Ask how they’re doing and then listen to what they’re going through instead of piling on with your own situation. Say thank you, a lot. Say I love you, a lot. Do your best to be supportive and understanding of everyone in your personal and professional circles. We all deal with stress and fear differently. If someone is not their best selves, do your best to let it go and stay focused on being the best version of yourself you can be during this stressful and uncertain time.
Tip 9: Get some fresh air. If at all possible get outside for some fresh air, if only for a few minutes. Even before the pandemic there were days that I would not realize until bedtime that I never went outside that day. That is not healthy! Even a short walk or (yes I’ve done this) sticking my head outside the back door, does wonders to make me feel refreshed and invigorated. Do your best to get out with nature (or at least in the elements) when you can. And drag your family members out with you, too.
Bonus tip for parents with school age kids, my nieces (in Pre-K and First Grade) still get ready for school (although they’re at home) and then they take a “magical school bus” around the house before arriving at “school” (opposite ends of the kitchen table.) They love this routine every morning. Give it a try!
One final thought, I’ve been thinking a lot about what our world will look like on the other side of this crisis. I’ve been a champion of virtual work and online business for years. I’ve always felt that our current corporate model in America isn’t working and it’s stifling innovation as well. One bright side to this is that we are all showing our children what work can look like beyond the traditional office. I know they’re paying attention, it’s my hope that they’re able to innovate and create better professional opportunities for themselves as a result.
Do you feel like you’re a hamster running on a wheel right now? Just trying to keep pace as news pours in day after day with no end in sight? If you’re like many small business owners right now, the rational part of your brain recognizes that this is a storm you need to weather. You know it will pass, eventually. Right now, your mission is to weatherproof your business to minimize the damages. You’ve got this.
Unfortunately, the emotional part of your brain, the one that has taken big risks to bring your business to life and understands the personal sacrifices you’ve made just to create your business, that part of your brain is likely in panic mode.
What should you do next?
In my previous post Is Your Crisis Communications Response Ready for COVID-19? I shared 7 steps you can take now to create an effective crisis communications strategy to get you through COVID-19, and beyond. Today I want to dive deeper into one of the most important steps in crisis management, scenario planning. The absolute worst place you can be in during a crisis like this as a business leader is reactive mode. Reactive mode is when something happens to you or your business and you respond with no prior plan in place. You might respond well and be patting yourself on the back or you might be scrambling to get things right. It doesn’t matter, if you are waiting until something happens to put together a plan, including writing and scheduling your communications, then you are still in reactive mode. This is dangerous territory because you will be under more stress, you will likely be sleep deprived, and you will be forced to communicate and strategize while faced with escalated deadlines. No one does their best work under these circumstances. Not even professionals!
Beginning today, I want you to commit to running your business in proactive mode. This will take extra effort as you get started, but I promise you it is worth it. Make some time today to think through various scenarios that could affect you and your business this year.
Here are some strategies to get you started.
Start with a brainstorm session. The easiest way to begin is to just start writing down anything that comes to mind. Unlike other parts of your day where you are likely willing your mind not to wander into all of the difficult things that could happen because of the pandemic, you want to give yourself permission to do this now. The key is to create some boundaries around this exercise to protect your own mental health. Remember that you are going through the exercise of dreaming up worst case scenarios so that you can prepare for them and confidently navigate your business through unchartered territory. It’s important that you protect yourself so that you are not overwhelmed or paralyzed by fear.
Ask for some input. Once you’ve created your list, ask for additional input. If you have employees, their input will be valuable for this exercise. If you’re a solopreneur, ask someone who is familiar with your business for their ideas. This will help you minimize potential blind spots and ensure that you’re as prepared as possible.
Analyze your scenarios one by one. This step can be time consuming, but it is worthwhile. You can begin with the scenarios that seem the most likely to occur, and then work down from there. Once you’ve completed this exercise for a few scenarios, you’ll likely see patterns in the actions you’ll need to take and can replicate your strategy for many of the scenarios.
Here are some key questions to ask yourself for each situation:
- Who will I need to communicate with? Be sure to list out each stakeholder group (clients, employees, friends/family you’ve been in contact with, etc.)
- How do I need to communicate with them? Are there any extra steps I should take so that I can be certain they receive my communications? (For example, do I need to call my clients instead of emailing them as usual?)
- Who are the local authorities I need to speak to for this scenario?
- How will I track and monitor relevant information for this situation?
- How often will I communicate with each stakeholder group?
- Are there any legal concerns I should be thinking about in my communications or planning?
- What are the financial ramifications to my business for this scenario? To my employees?
- Are there any opportunities to pivot my business/services if this scenario were to occur? What would I need to do to put those plans in place? How long would it take?
- Do I have any regular marketing activities planned on any of my channels that should be paused if this scenario occurs?
- Is there anyone I need to train to be prepared for this scenario?
Create a plan for each scenario now. Your plan doesn’t need to be fancy or pretty right now, but it does need to be thorough. Write down every step that you and anyone else who works on or in your business will need to take to manage your business and communications throughout the given scenario. Once you feel comfortable with your plan, make sure you discuss the plan with everyone who needs to be informed. Be sure to give them their own copy as well.
Write your communications. Begin with the scenarios you’re most concerned with and work down your list from there. For each scenario you’re planning you should have final messages, talking points or scripts written and approved (if needed.) If you use an email management system you should create a campaign for each scenario and include at least one templated message to get you started. If you’re active on a social media channel you should have at least a few posts finalized and uploaded into a scheduler (if you use one) or at the ready in a moment’s notice.
Evaluate your current messaging. Once you’ve gone through these various scenarios, I recommend reviewing your current messaging on your website, in your email campaigns, and anywhere else where you regularly engage with your audience. Did you schedule a month’s worth of posts on LinkedIn to promote your business as a great place to work by showcasing events that were supposed to happen but now your office is closed? Now is the time to give some thought to what you’re putting into the marketplace. It might be worth pausing some communications and instead considering how you can offer your audience value to navigate their lives during this difficult time.
Keep your eyes glued to the news. You are a business owner which means you cannot act like an ostrich with your head stuck in the sand. No matter how tempting it might be to distract yourself with Netflix instead of the news. You don’t have to be glued to the news 24/7, but it is imperative that you stay informed by reliable news sources with the latest data.
It’s also important to think globally at a time like this. Even if your small business only serves your local market, at times like these we are truly a global economy. Educate yourself on what is happening in other countries and other parts of the United States. Train yourself to think macro and micro, even if you’re not trained in economics and finance. The long-term health of your business depends on how you educate and conduct yourself now.
Protect yourself. I mean this in every way. Being a small business owner is stressful during the good times, I’m not sure if there is an adjective for it right now. Make sure you take time to care for yourself, not just everyone else. You and your business will weather this storm, even if things look dire right now. It’s possible that you will have an entirely different business a year from now. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to find a healthy balance of contingency planning, financial forecasting, and optimism. Yes, above all else I want you to think positively right now. It’s the best thing we can do for ourselves, and for others.
I know that this process will feel overwhelming to many business owners, especially when our economic futures are tenuous. Taking a lot of time to work on hypothetical scenarios might seem like wasted effort to some, but I promise you it is not. If something does occur, then you’ll have a sound plan in place. Even if the event that occurs is not one that you had prepared for, if you’ve done your due diligence in thinking through a variety of scenarios, you will have thought of one that was at least close enough to help you navigate the situation more confidently. Best case scenario, nothing out of the ordinary happens to you or your business and you’ll be sleeping a little better knowing that you’re protecting your business from the unknown. This reassurance will go a long way in boosting your self-confidence and strengthening your business management skills.
You don’t have to be trained in crisis management to think like a professional. I hope these tips have been helpful. For anyone looking for more, I’m offering free consultations to help you confidently navigate your business during this challenging time. Contact me to schedule yours today.